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Howie visits Japan – Introduction and contents.

Introduction

Some of you have commented to me that you found my idea of heading to Japan on my own for just over a week, with only a month’s notice, just to get away from HMS Brexit, to be slightly on the crazier side of things (even by my standards). But as promised in my blog revival post which I made earlier in the week, I thought I’d go through the step by step process of my planning (or lack of), and offer any hints and tips to anyone who wanted to head to Japan, but found it too daunting.

I want to add before I start bombarding you with my ramblings that I am writing this as someone who lives in the United Kingdom, and some of this series may be quite Anglocentric, but I will try and write this so that it is relevant to everyone who may be planning on a trip to Japan.

Contents

  1. Initial planning: travel arrangements.
  2. Initial planning: accommodation.

Howie visits Japan – Initial planning: accommodation.

There isn’t really very much for me to say in relation to looking for accommodation, as most of you will probably know about all your hotels / hostels price comparison websites on the interweb by now. As a starting point, I tend to look around the following:

The above are not listed in any particular order, and there are obviously more price comparison sites for accommodation out there, but it would take me an age to list all the price comparison sites around, but you get the idea!

The usual things to consider, such as proximity to public transport links, or proximity to places where you may visit the most, will apply equally to looking for accommodation for your holiday to Japan.

As well as the usual choices of hotels and hostels, Japan has at least two other forms of accommodation which I think is rather unique to Japan (or at least I’ve never come across anything similar in my travels so far.

Guesthouses – these are basically like hotels, but in order to save costs, you bring your own rubbish out during your stay, and you also make your own bed with the provided sheets. The guesthouse where I stayed also did not provide towels like in hotels, but you could if you did not have your own rent one from the guesthouse. They also usually have shared bathrooms and toilets. But if you plan to travel around and only need a place to sleep for the night, whilst wishing to have some privacy of your own room, then guesthouses are certainly a good compromise between a hotel and a hostel.

Capsule hotels – Now these are an interesting concept. The ultimate space saving hotel. I know it sounds kind of morbid, but the best way I can think of to describe these is that they are a bit like a mortuary, but for those sleeping temporarily rather than permanently. These are the ultimate in budget accommodation, and are often used by those who may have missed their last train, or just need accommodation for one night. The “room” is usually big enough just for a mattress and maybe a television, with luggage stored in a locker.

Although you may not like the idea of staying in a capsule hotel for the whole of your stay, their very low price means that you can actually have a “base of operations” (and now I have the “all your base are belong to us” cutscene sequence in my head) in one city having your room there to store your luggage, and carrying only what you need and stay overnight in a city slightly further away so you’re not travelling long distances return trips within a day, and going back again the next.

For example, I can have accommodation booked for the whole of my stay in Tokyo, which means that I can have the bulk of my luggage stored in my room in Tokyo. But if I feel like going to Kyoto for two days (staying there one night), I can simply bring what I need for the two days and one night in Kyoto in my backpack, and stay at a capsule hotel. This way, I can have time in Kyoto, but not drag all my luggage (which consisted of two suitcases: one medium sized suitcases packed with clothes, and a large suitcase which was slowly being filled with goodies from Akihabara, and goodies from Disneyland) with me from Tokyo to Kyoto just for a trip of two days and one night.

And look at pictures of capsule hotels, don’t you just want to try it out just so you can say you’ve had the experience of them? During the time of my holiday, around October / November 2017, I was able to find capsule hotel accommodation on price comparison sites for around £5 to £15 per night (approximately US$7 to US$20).

Howie visits Japan – Initial planning: travel arrangements.

Getting to Japan is probably the most expensive thing for which you’ll need to pay in relation to a holiday there. A London to / from Tokyo return flight off-peak should cost you around £400 to £500. To give you all an idea of seasonal variations I headed out during half-term holidays, and returned afterwards with my fare costing between £700 to £800 (although I will also add that I did stop off in Hong Kong for a couple of days as I had something to do there before flying from Hong Kong to Tokyo, but the airfare was only around £30 on top than if I just simply did London to / from Hong Kong alone, which of course made the added holiday a no-brainer).

Another thing to consider in relation to flights is whether you would like to visit other places in Japan, and how you would like to get there. For example, it is possible to travel from Tokyo to / from Osaka by both internal flight, or train.

If you are looking into train travel  within Japan, I would  recommend getting a JR Rail Pass. A JR Rail Pass allows for unlimited travel on the JR network within the duration of the rail pass’s validity. At the time of my travels in October / November 2017, a seven-day rail pass cost ¥29,110 (approximately £190 / US$260). If you wanted a seven day rail pass which allowed for green car (the Japanese equivalent of first class) travel, it would cost ¥38,880 (approximately £257 / US$340). Personally, I do not think it is worth the extra money to get a green car rail pass, as even standard class travel is pretty damn comfortable!

You can get rail passes for 14 days, or 21 days too. The cost of these rail passes for standard class travel are ¥46,390 (approximately £307 / US$409), and ¥59,350 (approximately £393 / US$523) respectively.

The two most important documents for me on my trip to Japan: my passport, and my JR Rail Pass.

To put the prices of the JR Rail Pass into perspective, a train ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto costs ¥8,210 without the seat fee. If you have an unreserved seat, the seat fee is ¥4,870 on top of the ¥8,210, totalling ¥13,080, with a return trip costing a total of ¥26,160 (approximately £173 / US$230), which as you can see is actually not far off from the price of the seven-day rail pass. The great thing about the JR Rail Pass is that it also allows you to make seat reservations for free. But I will discuss more about the JR Rail Pass in later posts in the series.

I recommend working out a basic itinerary to begin with as it is worth comparing the price of the rail passes to the cost of any internal flights which you may be planning to take. I always find trains so much more convenient as train termini are usually in city centres, rather than on the outskirts, which cut out the city to / from airport transit times.

Plus, a trip from Tokyo on the Tokaido Shinkansen (for example from Tokyo to Kyoto) brings you hurtling along at 175mph past Mount Fuji, which is a humbling sight to behold.

Mount Fuji with orographic clouds, taken at 175mph on the Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka.

Please do note that the JR Rail Pass only allows for unlimited travel on lines which are owned by JR. Whilst planning your holiday, have a look at HyperDia, which is a train timetabling website by Hitachi. You will want to click on ‘more options‘ to bring out a list of tick boxes. Untick the boxes which say “NOZOMI / MIZUHO / HAYABUSA (SHINKANSEN)” and “Private Railway” before you search so you can see if your intended journey can be done entirely on a JR Rail Pass.

For example, my journeys from Tokyo to / from Osaka, and Tokyo to / from Kyoto were covered entirely by my JR Rail Pass. However, my journey from Tokyo to / from Oarai wasn’t entirely covered by my JR Rail Pass. This is because to get from Tokyo to Oarai, I could only make the journey from Tokyo to Mito on my JR Rail Pass. To get from Mito to Oarai and back to Mito again, I needed to journey on a separate private line. A journey each way from Mito to / from Oarai only cost ¥320 (approximately £2.10 / US$2.80).

I paid for my JR Rail Pass before I left London, buying it from Japan Experience, which has an office based in Central London allowing me the convenience of collecting it in person. Please note that there are other authorised vendors of the JR Rail Pass, and my mention of Japan Experience is not an endorsement of that company against other vendors, but merely mentioned for information only as that was where I bought mine. You can easily find other vendors of the JR Rail Pass by going a quick search on the interweb.

When you pay for your JR Rail Pass, your vendor will provide you with an exchange order so you can collect the your JR Rail Pass when you arrive in Japan (I will talk more about the JR Rail Pass later in this series). Make sure when you place your order your name is correct, and matches your passport as it will be checked when you collect the real deal after arrival in Japan. Let me finish here with one final piece of wisdom: DO NOT lose that exchange order!!!

DO NOT lose this exchange order! You will need this to obtain the real JR Rail Pass after arrival in Japan.

Howie visits Maids of England.

Having just come back from a holiday in Japan, I started wondering if there were anything similar to the tongue and cheek fun maid cafés of Akihabara. I started trawling through the interweb and it wasn’t long before I found out about Maids of England, or MOE for short, which is a pop-up maid café hosting, and attending events and conventions.

The acronym MOE is quite fitting because in Japanese 萌え, which means cute or pertaining to feelings of affection towards something, is romanised as ‘moe’ (pronounced as ‘mo-eh’). If you go to a maid café in Akihabara, you will hear the phrase 萌え萌え (moe moe) being chanted by the maids quite regularly.

MOE was hosting a Christmas event yesterday at a Japanese café bar which I frequent quite regularly, and so it was that I decided to give MOE a go. The maids at MOE have the same enthusiastic tongue and cheek cutesy fun as the maids of Akihabara. MOE serve maid café classics such as  omurice with a cute ketchup drawing, along with the maids chanting, “delicious, delicious, moe, moe, cuuuuuuute”.

The maids will play games and take ‘chekis’ (Instax mini photos) with customers too. Of course, no maid café experience would be completely without a live song and dance, with some wotagei (this is a story for a whole different post lol).

Like the maid cafés of Akihabara, you pay an entry fee, which was £9 for yesterday’s event. The entry fee includes a cheki with one of the maids. You can, if course, purchase additional chekis for £3.50 each.

Food is then charged additionally to the entry fee. I opted for the special Maid Khao birthday set menu set at £17, which consisted of a cup of lovely rose tea, a main dish (I opted for the omurice), a cake, and a bromide (no, not the chemical, but the Japanese celebrity photo type of bromide) of one of the featured maids. I’ve posted some photos below of the food, although sadly I failed at cake photo which is why the cake is missing.

Not only that, but the maids continue to exude their cutesy persona on social media too, which is a pretty big task, and very skillfully done too.

If you are planning on going to Japan and want a taste of a maid café before diving into one at Akihabara, or are simply curious as to what a maid café is like, then you can’t go much wrong with MOE.

Howie revamps the blog.

Hi everyone!

I will admit right from the start that I have been very naughty and haven’t been updating this as much as I wanted to / should have. Unfortunately real life got a bit too busy, and I got completely bogged down.

Having some time now, I thought I’d revamp and restart this from scratch so I have a fresh state. I’ll endeavour to put something up at least once a week.

I’m currently writing a series of posts based on my recent holiday to Japan, with a view to hopefully help some of you geeks and Otakus plan your own trips to Japan, so watch this space!

Well, I guess without any further ramblings from me, let’s get started!

Howie